The Importance of Sunscreen

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You should be protecting your skin. It doesn’t matter where you work, the color of your skin, or the weather: you need sunscreen. It is easy to pick up at the store and only takes a few minutes to apply, but this small effort will reap benefits in the long run.

Sunscreen helps protect against the most common form of cancer in America: skin cancer. UV rays from the sun can damage your body’s genetic code, which can lead to an abnormal growth of cancerous cells. Sunscreen’s function is essentially that of a sponge; sunscreen soaks up the sun’s rays before they can damage your skin.

This needs to be a part of your morning routine every day and weather is no excuse. It is hard to think of the sun when clouds blanket the sky, but 80% of UV rays (radiation from the sun) will still perforate your skin. Even in the dead of winter, you should still be wearing sunscreen. It may not bring back the gaiety of a summer trip to the beach, but snow can reflect sunbeams just as sand and water can.

Using sunscreen is easier said than done. Many questions remain: which sunscreen do I get? How often do I apply? Spray or lotion? How much do I put on? What about that year-old bottle at the back of my makeup drawer? What if I can’t stand the feeling of sunscreen? Don’t let these questions delay or prevent you from using sunscreen. They all have answers.

Standing in an aisle of skin care products is daunting. The shelf of any particular product alone sports a myriad of options. There are certain things you can look for to narrow your search. Your sunscreen should be “broad spectrum,” which means that it will prevent both sunburn and skin cancer. If the label has either a skin cancer or skin aging alert, the product will only protect against sunburn - it will be useless to prevent skin cancer.

And of course, the big question remains: what about SPF? SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and the number denotes a sunscreen’s strength against UVB rays (the type of UV ray responsible for sunburns). The minimum recommendation of SPF is 15, but the American Academy of Dermatology states that you should use a sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher.

Beyond those qualifiers, the choice is yours. A lotion sunscreen is better than a spray because lotion application gives you more control. It is harder to tell if you have applied everywhere, let alone if you’ve applied enough, when using a spray can. While it is difficult to determine how much is enough, the American Academy of Dermatology states that the majority of people “only apply 25-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen.” To answer the question simply, you need enough to cover all exposed skin (don’t forget the tops of feet and ears!). For most adults, this will be about one ounce.

The application itself is simple, but the timing and upkeep is where things get tricky. Your first application of the day should be at least fifteen minutes before you go outside to give your skin time to absorb the sunscreen. If you’re spending an extended amount of time outside, you need to reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

If you’re using sunscreen regularly, you’ll be finishing a bottle of sunscreen before it expires. Check your old bottles for expiration dates if you want to use them up. If you don’t find one, remember that sunscreen must hold its strength for three years, according to the FDA.

Skin protection is more than just sunscreen. In fact, the product that is referred to as “sunscreen” is only one type of sunscreen—chemical—according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The other kind of sunscreen is physical, which includes umbrellas and protective clothing.

No matter what your day looks like, your day includes you and your skin. Even if you work inside in the rainiest city in the world, UV rays will still reach you. The majority of skincare is focused on the face, but your skincare should reach beyond the face—as low as you want to be kissed (and I’m not talking about being sun-kissed). So much of diet and exercise is geared towards taking care of your inner body, but you cannot forget your outer self as well. Your skin is more than an organ. Your skin is the first layer of foundation; your skin is the base of every outfit; your skin is you, and you are worth taking care of.